Report on Catholic-Pentecostal Relations

Author: Juan Usma Gómez

Report on Catholic-Pentecostal Relations

Juan Usma Gómez

Rome, May 1897:"We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs his protection and his help".1

These are the words of Pope Leo XIII, who urged Catholics "to know, love and pray to" the Third Person of the Trinity and decreed that on the days prior to the feast of Pentecost, a Novena should be made to the Holy Spirit, during which the unity of all Christians was to be prayed for (cf. nn. 3, 13).

"That the Church is a divine institution is most clearly proved by the splendour and glory of those gifts and graces with which she is adorned, and whose author and giver is the Holy Ghost.... The manner and extent of the action of the Holy Ghost in individual souls is no less wonderful, although somewhat more difficult to understand inasmuch as it is entirely invisible".2

Los Angeles, United States of America, April 1906: The press reported bizarre happenings in a small Protestant congregation that was meeting in a popular neighbourhood on Azusa Street. The headlines are significant: "Disgusting scenes at Azusa Street Church"; "Rolling on the floor in Smale's Church"; "The earthquake"; "Weird Babel of tongues"; "New sect of fanatics is breaking loose".3

But what did those concerned have to say?

The members of the Church in question, the majority of whom were African Americans, declared with conviction: "We have received the gift of tongues (I Cor)". And that is not all.
These persons of humble background said that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit" while they worshipped. This is why they prayed ceaselessly, witnessing to Christ well on into the night, and they "received the power to interpret the Bible"; some had visions or prophesied, while others spoke of being sanctified or of having obtained divine healing.

History shows that similar experiences also occurred in very different places, such as Topeka [Kansas], U.S.A. (1901), Great Britain (1904), Norway and Sweden (1907), and Chile (1909). This special outpouring of the Spirit, to be later called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", was repeated in various parts of the globe in people with different Christian affiliations, first in individuals, then in groups and entire movements.

There was already news of "revivals" or holiness movements. From 1906 and the events of Azusa Street, the birth of the Pentecostal Movement was identified; from that time, explicitly Pentecostal denominations appeared (Classical or First Wave Pentecostals).
Individuals, groups and movements who had this experience often decided (or some say were compelled) to split from the Christian communities to which they belonged and to create new ecclesial structures or denominations.

A 'personal Pentecost'

The Pentecostal Movement is continuing to grow and expand. The gap between the Pentecostal Movement and the other Ecclesial Communities is increasing in parallel, for since these communities have not received the "charismatic outpouring" or have rejected this Pentecostal Christian expression, Pentecostals believe they lack a fundamental grace.

When the experience of "Baptism in the Spirit" took place in the historical Churches in the 1950s, and later was experienced by Catholics in 1967, the Pentecostal attitude changed: "Those who have received the Holy Spirit can be listed among the saints and have obtained salvation".

The fact that these Christians retain membership in their original community (the Second or Charismatic Wave) gives rise to a new situation: Classical Pentecostals recognize communion with those who have been baptized in the Spirit, but not with the Christian community to which they belong, even if the action of the Holy Spirit in some of their members is "evident".

In the 1980s, the third wave came into being, that is, groups of people who had experienced this "personal Pentecost", but who belonged neither to the Classical Pentecostals nor the Charismatics; hence, they are known as Non-Denominational Pentecostals.

This "surprise of the Spirit" has been positively received by all Pentecostals, since through their "Baptism in the Spirit" they recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

From all the above, it is clear that just such a religious experience, distinct from conversion and usually accompanied by — though not in all cases — gifts of the Spirit, is one of the characteristic elements of Pentecostalism in all its forms.

Numerically speaking, Pentecostals overall constitute the second largest Christian group after Catholics, and the one that is most rapidly expanding; today, therefore, there is talk of a certain "Pentecostalization of Christianity".

Zurich, Switzerland, June 1972: The agreement signed in Rome the previous year inaugurated the International Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue with certain leaders and Churches of the Classical Pentecostals. It was the first initiative of its kind. The dialogue led to the beginning of mutual knowledge.

How different we felt at that time! How remote from one another we considered our communities to be! Our respective expressions of faith appeared irreconcilable.
Moreover, animosity and even rivalry persisted in the field of mission, not to mention an enormous theological gap.

It was a matter of the representatives of a Church and a Movement who were meeting to become acquainted with each other and to deepen their knowledge of their respective spiritualities. The items on the agenda also included the special events that accompanied the
Pentecostal phenomenon, its conditions and its authentic Christian sentiment.

The dialogue partners were not only seeking to formulate a description of the experience of "Baptism in the Spirit", but were also reflecting on the value of the Christian identity and Christian life in both communities.

In this first phase that corresponds to the first two periods of the talks, each lasting five years,4 some mutual misunderstandings were clarified and certain mistaken ideas rectified.
In the Commission for Dialogue, Pentecostals accepted the challenge of expressing their own theological formulations and interpretations of the Bible more exhaustively.

For their part, Catholics experienced in the first person that carrying on a dialogue does not mean facing realities as we please or realities with which we have an affinity, but trying to understand others as they are and accepting the way they speak of themselves.

Mission: convergence and conflicts

With the passing years, various common developments have followed the initial investigation: the reflection on the Church as communio is one stage in this process. Although Catholics and Pentecostals agree in recognizing the Church's role in the history of salvation, in conceiving of the Church as created by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit as the principle of her life and the source of her unity, certain very serious problems have not yet been solved.5

Subsequent to the ecclesiological reflections, which represent an innovation and take into account the, incipient Pentecostal interest in them, the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue focused on the theme of "Mission", reflecting on evangelization, proselytism and common witness.6

The dialogue has been able to note surprising points of convergence between Catholic and Pentecostal approaches to mission despite the strong conflicts that remain. To deal with these conflicts the Commission has proposed to the faithful of both traditions that they shift the work to new areas in light of the call to unity.

Speaking of this topic means that we are actually touching on the consequences of the division between Christians and that we realize we are acting as though Christ were divided!

Bolton, Canada, July 1998: During this fifth phase of the International Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, aware that Christianity involves the whole person and is rooted in the person's life, the Commission asked itself a fundamental question: how does one become a Christian? The answer is not as simple as we might believe.

Our way of interpreting the Bible often differs and the value that our respective traditions attribute to the Fathers of the Church also varies.

Furthermore, in treating such fundamental topics as Christian Initiation as Faith (1999), Conversion (2000), Christian Experience within a Community (2001) and Discipleship (2002), the Commission compared the different approaches of the respective ecclesial traditions.

New areas of reflection have emerged: experience, grace and the need for a tangible experience of grace; the importance of an informed decision of faith, and faith as a gift; conversion as an event or process, one that involves various events.

In this study, which could also be undertaken with other Christian communities, we must point out as specific to the dialogue with Pentecostals the theme of "Baptism in the Spirit" and its relation to Christian initiation (1998).

As Catholics and Pentecostals, we recognize the importance of the outpouring of the Spirit in the life of the Church through grace, signs and gifts. Even though "the Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians" (cf. Rom 8:9) and despite the different manifestations of the Spirit, Pentecostals claim not only that "Baptism in the Spirit" has a special theological importance, but also that it is important as an experience of grace; it produces greater openness that in turn permits further manifestations and gifts of the Spirit.

We can then ask ourselves: is "Baptism in the Spirit" a unique reactualization of Pentecost? Is it a 20th-century innovation or were there similar experiences in the early centuries? Does being Christian have a normative dimension? Are Christians who have experienced "Baptism in the Spirit" different from those who have not? If so, in what does this difference consist? If not, what contribution does spiritual reality make to Christian life?

The dialogue, which is consulting Sacred Scripture, the witness of the Fathers of the Church and the theological reflections of both traditions, is formulating a preliminary answer to each one of these questions. We hope that the Final Report, on which work was also done in 2004, will be completed at the plenary session in Summer 2005.


1 Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Divinum Illud Munus, On the presence and admirable virtue of the Holy Spirit, Rome, May 1897, n. 11.

2Ibid., nn. 6, 7.

3Excerpts from newspapers of the period, collected by Dr Cecil Robeck and presented at the Dialogue Session in July 2003.

4 Cf. International Catholic Pentecostal Dialogue, Final Report of the First Phase (1972-1976), in: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service (IS/SI) 32 (1976/111); Final Report 1977-1982, in: IS/SI 55 (1984/11-111).

5 Cf. Perspectives on Koinonia, Final Report of the Third Quinquennium  (1985-1989), in: IS/SI 75 (1990/IV).

6 Cf. Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness, Relations in the Fourth Phase (1990-1997), in: IS/SI 97 (1998/1-11).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 March 2005, page 10

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